When the Second World War ended in mid-1945, the world was almost thrust into World War III. There was a section of the US ruling class and the military high command who weren't happy that the Soviet Union had played such a key role in defeating fascism and rolling up the Wehrmacht in Europe, that communists had led the underground resistance to German and Japanese occupation in country after country in Europe and Asia, and that around the world national liberation movements were vocally demanding independence and an end to colonial bondage. The ruling class and its military chiefs wanted to run the world, and they were ready to crush the pesky reds and foreigners who stood in the way.
They were stopped in their tracks.
It wasn't the Red Army of the Soviet Union that did it, or the fighters of the French maquis, or Mao Zedong's Eighth Route Army in China. It was US soldiers and sailors and other troops, who launched a mighty movement to be sent home. They had signed on to do a job, to stop the drive to fascist world domination by Hitler Germany and Italy and Japan, and they had helped do it.
The way they saw it, the job was done. But the brass was trying to keep the troops in Europe and Asia as an occupying army and a combat-ready invasion force. Unfortunately for them, many of the GIs were workers who had been involved in the giant wave of strikes that shook the US in the midst of the Great Depression in the late '30s. These disciplined collective struggles organized the mass production industries like auto, steel and rubber before the outbreak of war. The soldiers knew that back in the States, the winding down of the war had triggered a huge new strike wave which began in '44 and picked up steam in '45 to make up the ground lost during labor's no-strike pledge during the war.
The first to stand up were troops from the European Theater who had made it back to the US only to find that orders had been cut to send them to the West Coast where they were to take ship to Asia for occupation duty. On August 21, less than two weeks after VJ Day, 580 soldiers from the Army's 95th Division signed a protest telegram to the White House. The 97th Division hung banners from the trains taking them to California, proclaiming "We're Being Sold Down The River While Congress Vacations." On September 15, General Twaddle of the 95th, assembled his soldiers for orders on occupation duty. The Washington Post the next day reported "the boos from the soldiers were so prolonged and frequent that it took [General Twaddle] 40 minutes to deliver a 15 minute speech."
Families added their voices to the chorus. Congress was inundated with letters and telegrams, thousands every day, insisting that the troops come home and stay home. As fall turned to winter, some families sent baby booties to their congressmen, with a note which read "Be a good Santa Claus and release the fathers."
And the outcry rapidly spread to the troops overseas. Nelson Peery, a veteran revolutionary who was in a segregated Black unit in the Philippines in 1945, recalls (in his autobiographical Black Fire):
"Perhaps it will never be known who coined the slogan 'Home by Christmas!' It was a perfect piece of agitation. This simple, understandable slogan was in the immediate interest of the troops and at the same time hit at the core of the generals' hopes of attacking the Soviet Union...
"It was painted on the latrines. It was scratched on the directional posts at the crossroads. It appeared as if by magic in the recreation rooms and the mess halls. Sometimes it was even painted on the screened-in officers' quarters."
When Christmas Day came, graffiti was no longer enough-4,000 soldiers marched in formation to the 21st Replacement Depot in Manila behind banners saying "We Want Ships!" Their panicked commander said, "You men forget you're not working for General Motors. You're in the army." On Guam, mass meetings called a hunger strike.
Halfway round the world, thousands of soldiers marched down the Champs Elysee in Paris on January 8 to rally in front of the US Embassy and shout "Get us home!" The next day in occupied Germany in Frankfurt am Main, speakers at a soldiers' demonstration telegraphed a message to Congress that said only "Are the brass-hats to be permitted to build empires?"
With Christmas past, things in the Philippines got hotter. A 156 man Soldier's Committee was elected in Manila to speak for 139,000 soldiers there, "all interested in going home." It issued leaflets which declared, "The State Department wants the army to back up its imperialism." The Soldier's Committee elected an eight man central committee which included Emil Mazey, a UAW local president who had played a leading role in the battle to unionize auto in the late '30s.
Declaring that "the continued stay of these millions of GIs in the armed forces can only serve the predatory interests of Wall Street," the soldiers' leadership asked the powerful United Auto Workers to present their demands of Congress. The UAW did, further fueling the "Bring Us Home" movement stateside.
With rebellion in the ranks turning political, discipline eroding and no sympathy on the home front, the ruling class and the military blinked. Orders to the Pacific were revoked and more vessels, everything up to ocean liners, were pressed into service to get the restive veterans home and demobilized. It was all the generals could do to keep enough troops to maintain the occupation of the conquered Axis powers.
The invasion of Iraq may not last long enough to produce a wave of rebellion in the military like the Vietnam War did, but even if it doesn't, there's a lot we can learn from the soldiers who organized the post-WWII Troops Home movement, back in the day.
Originally published in Freedom Road magazine #4.
November 11, 2015
posted by Jimmy Higgins
September 30, 2015
posted by Jimmy Higgins
"Hey, you're with that Freedom Road group, right?"
September 11, 2015
posted by Jimmy Higgins
The catastrophic scale and gradual (though escalating) pace of global warming and planetary climate change can make it, I think, perversely compelling for many of us to ignore. It’s too vast, too unstoppable, to contemplate on a daily basis, while even new weather patterns which affect us adversely, like scorching summers, get: well, it’s the weather, what can ya do?
We are in a race between global warming and resistance, we aren’t winning yet, and every day counts.
The main enemy is the giant fossil fuel companies (Shell, Exxon, India’s Adani Group, etc.), which must be “turned off” because the logic of their continued existence is to worsen the problem. The main tactic promoted here was divestment campaigns to drive down stock prices.
The rapid growth of renewable energy, especially solar, and the falling price of renewable generation means we can win this (The highpoint of the staging savvy of the evening was the introduction of this point and of the turn toward more optimism overall. It was a powerful and emotional performance of “Here Comes The Sun” by a young 350.org activist named Antonique Smith)
Renewables, and the changeover to them, can best be accomplished by taking them up at a community level in conjunction with struggles against poverty and injustice.
We need “energy democracy” including insuring that the millions of new green jobs created are decently paid union jobs.
The enemy has much to lose, and the money to buy the politicians it needs to stave off change. We must build a movement that builds on our accomplishments so far and unites hundreds of millions who have much to gain.
A Few Observations
Klein, McKibben and the others are clearly intent on baking into this movement a central thrust of justice and equality, and an internationalist stance. This is, of course, helped by the very global nature of the crisis. The symbolic message of who was up on stage, and on screen, was part of this, obviously. Rev. Yearwood wore a Sandy hat for Sandra Bland and name checked Black Lives Matter. And while some of it just came of as earnest assertion, a strong case was made that many of the initial victorious struggles thus far have emerged from indigenous communities, poor and marginalized.
Our way of life literally doesn’t work. It’s breaking the planet. Given the severity of the situation, Francis writes, “we can finally leave behind the modern myth of unlimited material progress. A fragile world, entrusted by God to human care, challenges us to devise intelligent ways of directing, developing, and limiting our power.”
July 2, 2015
posted by Jimmy Higgins
a series of pieces on May ’70, 19 of them and counting.)
Maybe 50 people stayed for the forum after, and folks there were plenty clear. What happened in May 15, 1970 was not “tragic," it was murder. Murder by the police. It was fascinating to watch the veterans share their experiences and try and pull together what they had seen into a larger, more coherent picture of the deadly assault they had survived. Comparisons to the present murders of young African-Americans were blunt and frequent. And I wish every white yahoo who responds to police violence by going on about Black-on-Black violence could have been there to listen to folks from the community grapple with the problem.
Still, the greater attention to Kent in memory and in history as it is taught and written in this white supremacist country is obvious. It clearly rankles many of the veterans at Jackson State. Several made a point of complaining that the protest at Jackson is too often described as an anti-war protest and not primarily as a protest against the multi-faceted racism directed at Black students in the capital of Mississippi in 1970.
Both sets of May 1970 veterans emphasized the organized nature of the murderous attacks—at Kent, the National Guard unit wheeling, kneeling and firing in unison into the unarmed students, and at Jackson the way the po-po marched in order up Lynch Street before turning to fire on the students.
March 20, 2015
posted by Jimmy Higgins
Most of all, it showed how astounding the movement in St. Louis has become. Even as it sparked the first real nationwide, as opposed to localized, movement against racist police violence ever in this country and triggered the reawakening of the Black Liberation Movement, it has remained the epicenter of the struggle, despite murders even more shocking than that of Mike Brown, like those of Akai Gurley in New York City and Tamir Rice in Cleveland.
December 6, 2014
posted by Jimmy Higgins
I have been half-joking for a while now that I have a second hero, the weedy tech who nervously approached his boss and said, "Mr. Jobs, sir, you know we could put a video camera in our iPhones and charge an extra seventy bucks or so for them. People would take videos of their sweethearts and their pets and their kids' school play and then they'd send them around! What do you think?"
Today, there's been an enormous amount of commentary, online and in the press, on the national wave of demonstrations protesting the Staten Island Grand Jury process that walked killer cop Daniel Pantaleo. It is crystal-clear that that much of the outrage is fueled by the readily available cell phone video shot by Ramsey Orta as his friend Eric Garner was choked to death by police.
Should any Alpha Geek deeply versed in this history wants to school me, I welcome corrections or additions. And meanwhile, I sincerely thank Dr. Fossum and Kazumi Saburi, their coworkers and others laboring in the dark satanic mills of the cellphone industry for letting us see, with our own eyes, what happened to Eric Garner.
November 27, 2014
posted by Jimmy Higgins
[This article is by my friend John Lacny, a Pittsburgh-based activist. He possesses a pitiless eye for the mechanisms of domination employed by big capital, which make his pieces, like this one, a delight to read.]
By John Lacny
One of the first bitter lessons you learn as an activist is the fact that just because people know the truth does not mean that things are going to change. People have to actually do something about it -- and organizing them to do something about it is one of the toughest things in the world, not least because it requires you to inspire people to believe that it is possible to change things.
That said, our adversaries are well aware that mass-based knowledge is a dangerous thing for them, which is why they invest so much effort in obscuring the facts. An especially illuminating example of this can be found in an article that appeared in the house organ of capital, The Wall Street Journal, just before Thanksgiving. It is entitled "The Boss Makes How Much More Than You? Controversial New Rule Would Make Companies Disclose Data," and it is accompanied by an illustration in which the average CEO is represented as a gigantic pig. (The average worker is portrayed as a much smaller piggy bank, but what do you expect from the WSJ.)
The subject is a new rule by the Securities and Exchange Commission, which would require US companies traded on Wall Street to disclose the ratio of pay between their CEO and their median employee. This rule has been a long time coming, and is the result of 2010's Dodd-Frank financial reform act. Dodd-Frank was a mild financial reform that has more than a few shortcomings, but much like the Affordable Care Act -- which is of similar vintage -- even its mildly progressive features have a way of causing vested interests to break out in hives.
The Wall Street Journal notes that the proposed rule about the CEO-worker pay ratio attracted more than 128,000 comments. Think about this for a minute. Do you know of the obscure website where people can comment on proposed SEC rules? Do your friends? How many of the people you know are even aware of the SEC's existence? Then think about the effort it takes to get someone to comment, and to get that to happen 128,000 times. Is this a grassroots movement that you're unaware of? Not likely, but it is an action encouraged by people who have a hell of a lot of money. And the usual suspects in Congress have responded to the demands of their constituency: Texas teabagger Jeb Hensarling, who chairs the House Financial Services Committee, sent a letter along with two other Republicans calling on the SEC to delay implementation of the rule.
The Journal writes: "Critics say such pay ratios matter little to investors and could make executives easy targets for populist anger or hostile shareholders." Note the explicit values here: These people are quite clear that the purpose of the SEC and the disclosures it requires of companies is to protect investors, not the public at large, and certainly not the people who actually do the work that makes the profits for publicly-traded companies.
Nevertheless, bosses are resigned to the likelihood that they'll have to comply with the rule, and with the desperate determination to mount a defense before they are carted away on the tumbrels, they are putting resources where it matters: into pure PR and HR bullshit artistry. Witness the Journal: "Some employers are taking steps to plan for the possibility of internal morale problems, negative press and an investor outcry over the sizable gulf in pay between the top and the bottom. Among other things, they intend to expand employee training and shareholder outreach efforts."
The first step is no doubt a lot of board room Power Point presentations, many of them prefaced with an icebreaking joke illustrated by a Dilbert cartoon. You won't see that part. The part you will see is the various company handouts and press releases in which they try to defend the indefensible. Your job as an organizer is to see to it that they fail.
The really funny thing about this is that we already know how much corporate CEOs get paid, because the SEC has required companies to disclose that for years. You can look that up any time you want. It is on a website called EDGAR, hosted by the SEC. Each year, every publicly-traded company files a DEF 14A form, more familiarly known as a proxy statement, and the SEC website has all of these. If you're on a fast food strike, and you want to know how much the CEO of McDonald's makes -- in salary, stock and stock options, bonus, and everything else -- you can look that up. (It was nearly $9.5 million last year, by the way.)
So they're not really worried about the disclosure of CEO pay. What they're really worried about is that we will learn how little the rest of us make: "'Half of your workforce is going to [ask], "Why am I paid below the median?"' said Jill Kanin-Lovers, a retired human-resources executive, at a National Association of Corporate Directors conference. 'That's going to be really explosive.'"
We have a perverse culture in this country where workers are not supposed to discuss their pay with one another. This actually starts in the schools. The very same people who like to complain because "kids these days" get participation trophies for sports -- when trophies should really only go to winners -- are the very same people who endorse the idea that a kid should be circumspect about discussing with peers what actually matters in school, which is academic achievement or the lack thereof. This is because if kids know how other kids are being graded, they will be able to figure out if the grading system is unfair and the teacher is playing favorites. Discouraging schoolchildren from discussing their grades is therefore not a salve to the self-confidence of the children who are not as academically proficient as others, but in fact quite the opposite. It is training for an adulthood in the workforce, and intended to inculcate a cringeing, submissive attitude toward one's social "betters" -- masked as American "rugged individualism," of course, when really it is an extreme form of social atomization that actually leads to the opposite of freedom, a life of diminished expectations reinforced by fear.
It is actually illegal for employers in the United States to fire or discipline workers for discussing their pay and working conditions, but most people don't know that, and it doesn't stop managers from doing it even if they know the law. Vindicating a worker's formal rights under the law can be a long and painful process, which is why most people shut up when they're told to do so -- unless they're in a union shop and can therefore count on their coworkers to back them up.
But the statement of Jill Kanin-Lovers is not the last of the revealing statements in this nutrient-rich Wall Street Journal article. Here is another:
"Companies with staff around the world 'worry their pay ratios will mean little because the median employee may be a part-timer in India making a few dollars a day compared with their U.S. CEO, who makes millions a year,' says James D.C. Barrall, a partner at Latham & Watkins LLP who specializes in executive compensation."
There you have it, India: you don't mean shit to corporate America.
But of course, pay ratios mean a lot in the cases of companies with large overseas workforces, perhaps even moreso than with firms whose workforces are mostly domestic. They demonstrate that all the "populist" campaigners are right when they say that US companies lay off domestic workers in order to further exploit workers in the Third World and thereby further enrich the CEOs.
"Populist" is the most terrifying all-purpose curse-word that the business press can affix to someone these days. So when they say that something could be used to stoke "populist anger," it means we should take advantage of the opportunity to prove them right. Read more!